The Atlantic Division title seemed all but locked up about a month ago when the New York Knicks started out the season with a 18-5 record.
The Brooklyn Nets had a terrible month of December that saw their head coach at the time, Avery Johnson, get fired as the team fell to only one game above .500 after a fast start. New York had a six game lead in the division at the time of the firing. But since the coaching change, the Nets and Knicks have started to play like complete opposites.
Joe Johnson hit the go-ahead jumper with 22 seconds left and scored 25 points, leading Brooklyn to a 88-85 win over the New York Knicks on Monday afternoon and a split of the four games between the city rivals.
Johnson's shot came after Carmelo Anthony knocked down two free throws with 40 seconds left that gave the Knickerbockers a one point lead.
That would be Anthony's only points of the fourth quarter as he missed all six of his shots and would finish with unspectacular 29 points on 29 shot attempts. Following Johnson's shot, Anthony missed the potential go ahead basket with eight seconds by shooting a turnaround airball.
"I don't make no excuses. I should've made the shot," said Anthony."I don't know what to say about that."
While Anthony has made it a habit knocking down big shots at the end of game, it was Johnson who had the ice in his veins.
" It's all about confidence and believing in yourself," said Johnson. "You got to take that shot like it's the first one of the game. Like I said, just believe in yourself."
The Knicks had one final chance after Deron Williams hit just one of two free throws with 5 seconds left. JR Smith's rushed 3-point attempt bounced off the backboard and front of the rim as time expired.
"It should have never come down to that," said Anthony. "We didn't make shots down the stretch. The shots that we usually make and normally make, we didn't make it tonight. Joe Johnson did a great job of taking advantage and making the shot."
Smith added 16 points off the bench and Amar'e Stoudemire had 15 for the Knickerbockers. Tyson Chandler scored seven points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
After three great games against Brooklyn that saw Anthony average nearly 40 points per game in those contests, his jumper certainly was not his friend tonight as the early MVP candidate could not add to his resume of game winning shots.
The Knicks now find themselves only one game ahead of the Nets for first place in the Atlantic Division.
"We had our chances," said Mike Woodson. "We missed a lot of good shots. They made the plays down the stretch. We had our chance but didn't execute defensively. We have to live with it and try to get the next one."
After falling behind by six at halftime, the Knicks picked up the defensive intensity in the third quarter by outscoring the Nets 27-18 to take a 68-65 lead. New York was great from the field, shooting 59 percent while the Nets were held to a 6 for 20 shooting. The Knickerbockers looked like they were about to take total control of the game at the point, but couldn't score when they needed to.
"I thought we had momentum going into the fourth quarter," said Tyson Chandler. "I thought we were going to run away with it but we didn't. They forced us into tough shots, got the momentum back and was able to win the game."
Iman Shumpert had two points on 1-of-6 shooting in his second game of the season after returning from a torn ACL. The second-year guard, who debuted in the victory over Detroit in London, played 20 minutes in his 2013 Garden debut.
"I am mad at the loss," said Shumpert. "I got some open shots tonight and I am supposed to knock those down."
Jason Kidd may have had his best game since the injury to Raymond Felton. Kidd, who played 35 minutes, looked fresh as daisy as he was all over the defensive side of the ball. Kidd had a season high of six steals, and was very efficient shooting the ball as he scored 11 points on 4 of 5 field goals. The Knicks have played one game in the last eight days and certainly helped Kidd look like he was 30 years old instead of 40.
"I felt fresh and ready to go," said Kidd. "We just need to learn from our mistakes and push forward."
New York will now play it's next two games against Atlantic Division rivals as they travel to Boston to play the Celtics on Thursday. They will then head to the Wachovia Center to play the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.